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Social Media Scandals: How to Avoid a Personal PR Crisis

Within this last 12 months, we’ve seen personal PR crises aplenty on social media, from Danny Baker’s “allegedly” racist tweet to Uber’s use of a slur when dealing with a customer’s complaint. And let’s not forget Elon Musk’s mouth running away with him at every given opportunity.

At worst these kinds of blunders can ruin an individual or a business. At their mildest they can result in a tsunami of boycott hashtags, a scarred reputation, and lost revenue and opportunities for the future. In the age of social media, there’s no escaping a well-deserved backlash.

Of course, prevention is better than a PR clean-up operation. But what if YOU are your brand? What steps should you take to avoid causing a personal PR crisis on social media in the first place? And what do you do if it happens?

Realise the permanence of the internet

Yep, even after decades of interwebbing some people still forget that when you hit ‘post’ it’s there forever. And even if you realise your mistake and delete it moments later, there’s every chance a screenshot savvy follower will grab it and share it anyway.

Whenever you’re about to post something, ask yourself this: Will this come back to haunt me in 10 years? As far as celebrities and social media influencers go, it’s a tale as old as time (we all remember the Kevin Hart furore back in December). So go through your Twitter feed and Facebook timeline now. If it’s like a cornucopia of controversy, get it cleaned up pronto. We live in a much more PC time where people will actively dig for dirt.

Curb the potty mouth

Foul language is fine, providing it’s the irreverent tone of voice you’re known and loved for, and if it works for your personal brand. If you’re associated with another brand, however, or your business means you may have the opportunity to work with another brand in the future, it’s not such a s**t-hot idea.

Pretty much every big company keeps their language strictly PG these days, and many of them only want to work with those that won’t tarnish that ethos. If you’ve got to use the odd four-letter word for emphasis, make sure you censor it. This will actually emphasise that you’re conscious of not offending people, which most companies will appreciate.

What would your mother say?

Unless your mother is Lily Savage, this is a good rule of thumb when it comes to making posts that err on the side of controversy. It’s often a risky business when you want to post content that tows the line between attention-grabbing and outrageous. But consider how those nearest and dearest to you would see it.

If your mother wouldn’t appreciate that meme, joke, picture, news article, or scathing post about a competitor, then chances are many of your fans, clients or customers wouldn’t like it either. Think, think, think.

Don’t get political

Unless you’re a political commentator, of course. Otherwise, it makes your life a lot easier to stay out of politics altogether, in case you alienate a percentage of your followers who don’t share the same values as you. And that’s always going to be a lot of people.

There are the occasional exceptions to the rule. Supporting anything equality-focused, such as LGBTQ rights or movements like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo is generally looked at favourably on social media. Providing it’s sincere and doesn’t look like you’re just hopping on the bandwagon.

Keep your professional accounts public, and your personal accounts private

There are exceptions to the rule on this one too. For example, if you and your glamorous lifestyle ARE the brand. For most folk, however, keeping business and personal social media accounts separate is just a no-brainer. Nothing dilutes your marketing efforts quite like online conversations with your Aunt Vera or a string of your favourite memes.

If you have personal social media accounts, then make sure they’re kept locked down with the privacy settings. And try and refrain from posting anything too controversial on those either.

Be prepared

Whether it’s a business blunder, a scandal in your private life, or an ill-received online post, no-one’s immune from a social media crisis. The most important thing is to act fast, act smart, and completely douse the fire before it begins to burn out-of-control. When there’s fury on social media, it’s only a matter of hours before major media outlets begin reporting on it, which is when your reputation can really go up in flames.

Having a social media crisis management plan is vital. Know how you’ll work with your team if such a situation occurs, so that you can get to your action stations and start making things happen pronto, rather than just getting in a flap. Research has shown that over a quarter of crises spread internationally within just 60 minutes, while most companies take a whopping 21 hours to cobble together a decent defence. Oftentimes the damage has been done, and if it’s left too long, the defence doesn’t match the volume of the accusation.

The three main actions that should feature in your plan are:

Pause all social media posts

Letting your posts go on as usual gives the impression you’re just ignoring the problem and trying to gloss over it.

Acknowledge the problem

If the fault is genuinely at your end, acknowledge it in its entirety. People are far more inclined to forgive a company or individual when they hold their hands up, instead of trying to weasel their way out of the situation.

Offer an apology

Say sorry and express the solution and actions you’re going to take going forward. Do so in a way that’s sincere, thoughtful and human. And don’t leave any opportunity to make things worse.

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